FFWC Challenge 6

Agent Luke Fraser peered out the window of the private plane, watching the cattle-dotted fields roll by far below. He was being flown to the scene of a kidnapping. His job was to locate the missing Isaiah Tuck, return the child to his parents, and arrest the kidnappers. It was an easy mission.

Agent Fraser turned away from the window and reread his notes. They had been written by the plucky Agent Jodie Day, who was technically supposed to be on the mission with Luke. But he only worked alone, and had ditched Agent Day before boarding the tiny plane.

He shook his head and went back to the notes. Isaiah Tuck had been walking home from his elementary school when he was abducted. An old woman living two blocks away from the Tucks had mentioned to Agent Day that a short boy with curly black hair had been pulled into an ordinary-looking green car. The woman’s description matched up with Isaiah.

Jodie had interviewed the Tucks, and wrote that his mother had noticed that Isaiah was tense that morning before leaving for school. Was he threatened? Jodie had scribbled in the margin. Mrs. Tuck had sobbed, “I didn’t know it was the last time I would see him. If I had, Miss Day, I would have held him tight and never let go.”

While his wife cried, Mr. Tuck showed Agent Day a ransom note left in their mailbox. “We were hoping for a ransom note; it would be a way to get our son back,” he explained. “After Isaiah went missing, we set aside a large portion to pay off the expected ransom. But the price was higher than we were prepared for. And, well, Miss, we were unsure of how to proceed.”

That was what Luke had to go off of. But it was enough.

As he was shuffling through the notes, he sensed a change in the plane. The nose dipped down. He felt the rumbling of the engine change pitch. Something was wrong. He jiggled his seat belt, planning to go visit the cockpit, but a flash of color outside his window distracted him.

A man with a parachute strapped to his back was hovering outside the window. With a broad, crooked smile, he pointed at the yellow sign he had made: I was your pilot. 

Luke slammed his fist against the glass window, snarling at the traitorous pilot, and the man laughed as he dropped out of view. Someone — the kidnappers, Luke assumed — had planted one of their men in the plane to pilot it. They were trying to get rid of him before he could track them down. He steeled his expression and thought, Well, it’s not going to work.

He undid his seat belt and ran to the cockpit. He’d been trained in many odd skills, including flying. Luke slid into the pilot’s chair, flicked several levers, and grabbed the steering wheel. Before he could right the plane, a hand clamped onto his shoulder. He whirled around and punched the attacker in the face.

Staggering around in the cockpit, one hand held to her bleeding nose, was the dark-haired Agent Jodie Day. Somehow, she had slipped aboard the plane. She was shouting at him angrily, and at that moment, Luke was very glad that he was deaf. He refocused on righting the plane, but gritted his teeth when he saw that the pilot had cut the steering wheel’s wires.

He leapt up from his chair and searched the plane for a way to get off. As there were no parachutes (the pilot had thrown all but one overboard), Luke needed to construct two makeshift parachutes to get him and Agent Day off the plane.

Jodie stomped in front of him and continued to yell in his face. Didn’t she know that he was deaf? Irritated, he pulled out his super-secure phone and sent her a quick text message.

The sight of Luke with his cellphone in hand seemed to make her even more angry, but her rage swiftly melted into confusion when she read the text that popped up on her phone’s screen: Silence, you uneducated peanut. Jodie rolled her eyes, but she stopped ranting.

Luke texted her again. Help me find something to create a parachute with.

Jodie perked up immediately. Eagerly, she slipped out of her bulky dark blue nylon jacket and showed it to Luke. There were straps on the inside, like a backpack. The sizeable jacket could convert into a small parachute! This was their way to get of the plummeting plane.

Only, Luke had no idea how to work the parachute. How did it fold out? Where was the cord? He wouldn’t be able to figure it out before the plane crashed. He sent another text to Jodie: Agent Day, you need to work the parachute. Hold on to me, and we’ll jump together.

Jodie’s hazel eyes filled with fear. Me? she mouthed, pointing to herself. She texted, I can’t! I’m . . . not brave enough. I’ll drop you.

Jodie was the only way off that plane. How could Luke make her see that she was brave enough? She’d snuck onto the plane after Luke had ditched her . . . She’d hidden in the cramped airplane for half of the trip . . . And she kept a parachute on her disguised as a jacket. She was resourceful and a good secret agent, as annoying as he might find her.

Luke cleared his throat. He hated talking, and he knew his words must sound strange to others. But he knew that talking in this instance was better than texting. He croaked, “You doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are. You are a spy, and you’ve got this.”

Her eyes lit up, and Luke knew he had chosen the right words. Jodie slipped her arms through the straps on the jacket and pushed open the bay doors. She showed Luke where the cord was, wrapped her arms around him, and together, they jumped.

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AA, I used all three prompts from this challenge; one from Challenge 3; and one from Challenge 2.

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And I included an Aslan quote. 🙂

Loren

FFWC #5: The Tale of The Traveler

Theodore Matthews was a rather unconventional young man. With his fancy British accent, he’d never fit into the into the rustic  villages that lined the coast of Ireland. He never stayed in one small town for more than two weeks; Theodore was constantly traveling up and down the seaside. And the old, faded leather satchel that was always by his side was an object of mystery. By the fireside at night, families often wondered what would be found if one lifted the flap.

* * *

Theo had left the tidy village of Dann that morning just after dawn, and now, near lunchtime, he was stumbling into Niaveth. Tall chartreuse grass swayed in the salty sea breeze, as if waving to the traveler. Petite cottages built out of gray moss-covered stone, with grass-thatched roofs, were clustered around a central well. Theo rested his hand atop his satchel and marched into the village. The hard-working peasants froze as he entered the town. They had heard of a tall young man with shaggy brown hair and sun-kissed skin that was hiking the coast of Ireland; this was surely him.

Amidst the kind, welcoming villagers was an old man with white hair and a sharp mind. He eyed Theo’s leather bag and began constructing a plan. He slipped into his ramshackle barn and leapt aboard his chestnut horse, pounding toward the Kingdom of Keravia.

Back in Niaveth, a chubby young girl with rust-red hair and freckles covering her whole body invited Theodore to stay with her family. He gratefully excepted, much to the dismay of the lass’s mother. The girl (“I’m Sinead!” she exclaimed with a gap-toothed smile) lead him over to the largest cottage in the village.

“This is the Potatoes ‘n Porridge Inn!” Sinead proclaimed proudly, placing her hands on her hips. “I named the place myself.” She creaked open the wooden door, stamped her bare feet on a worn mat, and beckoned Theo to follow. Sinead set up a makeshift bed for him in front of the fireplace, and before she could serve him a meal of potatoes and porridge, he was fast asleep.

The next morning, shortly after dawn, the front door of the inn was shoved open, and an elderly man burst inside. He rushed over to where Theo was sleeping by the glowing embers. “Theodore! Wake up, lad!” He shook the young man violently until he bolted straight up.

Theo didn’t recognize the old man, with his thin, veiny arms and shock of white hair. Although Theo had no way of knowing it, this was the man who had ridden off to Keravia the night before. “Hello . . . Can I help you?” Theo asked, brushing the tangled brown curls off his forehead.

With a shaking hand, the man pulled an official-looking letter out of his patched coat pocket. “I received this letter this mornin’ . . . ya see, I was a brave saver of damsels in distress in my youth. This letter says that Princess Estelle of Keravia is in danger. But I am old, and you are young . . . Please, Princess Estelle needs ya!” He jiggled the letter out of the envelope and handed it to Theo.

Theo quickly scanned the letter. It was addressed to Sir Darragh Walsh, and was a plea for help. Princess Estelle had been kidnapped, they needed Darragh to save her . . . exactly what the old man had just told him. Theo returned the letter, and with a sigh, said, “Alright, Sir Darragh Walsh, I will help. Would you please escort me to Keravia?”

* * *

Two hours later, Walsh’s chestnut horse pounded into Keravia’s main square. Peasants, members of the nobility, and even the royal family itself were gathered there. Everyone let out an enormous cheer  when Sir Darragh and Theodore arrived.

The two men slipped off the horse, and Walsh bowed while Theo waited uncomfortably beside him. “Hello!” Walsh called, waving grandly. He turned to the royal family and said, “I have answered your summons, Your Royal Highnesses. Unfortunately, I am too old to perform the daring stunts that I used to, but I have brought someone to take my place!”

Theo stepped forward and bowed. “I am Theodore Matthews.”

The king nodded at him before pointing to a tall building just beyond the town square. “That is the flour mill. My darling Estelle has been kidnapped, and is being held hostage inside of it. The Royal Guard would have been happy to storm the mill and rescue her, but the captain has a wheat allergy; he can’t go near the mill.” The king wrung his hands and peered anxiously at Theodore. “You don’t have a wheat allergy, do you?”

Theo steeled his gaze as he stared at the flour mill. “No, sir; no allergies,” he replied.

“Excellent!” The plump queen clapped her gloved hands. She was flanked by members of the Royal Guard, and she ordered one to help Theodore find armor. The guard whisked Theo away to the armory, where he picked out a set of cumbersome armor.

The guard, who announced himself as Reynard Forde, strapped the armor over Theo’s clothes. He attached a long red cape to Theo’s shoulders, then shoved a rectangular shield and a sheathed broadsword into his arms. He pushed a boxy helmet over the boy’s head. Reynard clapped Theo on his metal shoulder and grinned. “You’ll be fine, lad. You’ve got a youthful spring in your step.”

The guard curled his fingers around the strap of Theo’s satchel, ready to rid him of it. Theo wrapped his arms protectively around the bag and said coolly, “Thank you, but I’d really rather keep it with me.”

Reynard shrugged skeptically, but took his hand off the strap.

Theo left the armory, crossed the hushed square, and stood before the flour mill. Early morning light glinted off his armor. He took a deep breath. “It’s time to save a princess, then.”

And he entered the mill.

Flour swirled up around him with every footfall. Sunlight slanted in through the windows, exposing the dust particles dancing through the air. “Princess Estelle?” he called, and his voice sounded tinny through the helmet. “M’lady?”

He headed deeper into the mill. A wooden staircase wound its way around the circular room to the next level. He climbed it, his metal-clad feet clanking against the steps. There was no princess being held captive on the second floor. No luck on floor number three, either. Finally, in the attic of the mill, he found her.

Princess Estelle was tied to a beam, with rope biting into her wrists and a cloth gag in her mouth. Her silk off-the-shoulder blue-gray dress was torn and dusted with flour. Estelle’s white-blonde hair was tussled and falling out of its elaborate, curly updo. She looked pale and frightened.

“Don’t worry, I’m here to help,” Theo murmured in a comforting tone. He rushed forward and sliced her bonds with his broadsword, pulling the gag out of her mouth. “Princess Estelle, are you alright?”

She nodded. “Thank you, Sir . . .?”

“Just Theo, if you please.” He tugged off his helmet, and his sweaty brown curls tumbled down into his face. “Hurry, Princess!” He took her hand and lead her down the steps of the flour mill, silently congratulating himself on rescuing someone so important. It had been far easier than he’d expected.

By the time they’d descended to the second floor, Theo had gotten the princess to talk. She had a melodious voice, with just a hint of a soft Irish accent. Estelle was telling him about the horrors of being kidnapped, and the wonderstruck young man had let his guard down. As the Princess of Keravia and the British traveler neared the steps to the first floor, someone jumped out of the shadows.

A hunched back. Veiny hands. A shock of white hair. The tall old man leering at them was Sir Darragh Walsh. He sneered, showing off his crooked yellow teeth.

Estelle darted behind Theo. He warily pointed his sword at Walsh. “Sir Darragh, what are you doing in here?” Theo asked. “You should be waiting outside with the others.”

Walsh’s wicked grin grew wider as he slunk toward them. “I don’t mean to let ya leave this mill, lad. An’ the princess won’t be leavin’, either.”

Theo and Estelle backed away from Walsh, until they were pressed up against the far wall. The princess cowered behind him, trembling. “Why are you hiding behind me?” Theo whispered to her, raising his shield.

Her cheeks flushed guiltily.

Theo croaked, “Estelle, what did you do?”

Walsh crept toward them. He hissed, “Theodore, where is the princess’s kidnapper? Why was she left unguarded? She was helping me, lad! I kidnapped her, I tied her up in the attic.” He smiled nastily at Estelle, and she whimpered. “Quite a convincing actress, isn’t she? She knows everything about my plan. Although I suppose I forgot to tell her that she would get to die alongside you.”

Theo’s throat was dry. This was all an act? “It takes a very broken, twisted soul to do what you did.”

Walsh’s cunning eyes light up sinisterly. “You’re too kind; thanks for noticin’!”

“When did you get a chance to kidnap her?” Theo wondered aloud.

“Last night.” Walsh was a foot away from them now. “When you came to Niaveth, I recognized you. You’re the wandering lad from England. Well, I knew I needed to get my hands on that satchel of yours. Everyone wants to know what’s in it. So I came up with an ingenious plan, rode off to Keravia, and enlisted the help of my favorite little actress, the princess.” He was so close that Theo could see the crumbs from breakfast stuck in Walsh’s stringy mustache. “Now, if you would hand over the satchel, I’ll make your death quick.”

Theo didn’t move.

Walsh’s hand snapped out and ripped the bag off of Theo. The enraged young traveler leapt forward and tackled the old man to the floor. The bag flew out of Walsh’s grasp and skidded away.

While the men fought and rolled around on the floor, Estelle scampered over to the satchel. She leaned down to pick it up, and a volume fell out of it and thumped against the ground. Estelle scooped the shabby leather-bound book off the floor. It fell open in her hand, and before she could stop herself, her eyes flitted over the writing on the first page. She read it aloud:

The Journal of Theodore Matthews

Entry One, 1309.

Today, my life was destroyed. Fire devoured our cottage. No one escaped. I was only spared because I was working in the fields when it caught fire. I remember saying goodbye to Mother this morning at dawn before I left for work. I didn’t know it was the last time I would see her. If I had, I would have held her tight and never let go.

I’ve decided that I can’t stay here in England. Everything is a painful memory of my family; their memories haunt me. I need to leave, to start over somewhere new. I will go to Ireland. 

— Theo

Estelle’s gray eyes gleamed with tears as she read the entry. Carefully, she shut the journal and slipped it into Theo’s bag. The men had become very still. She whispered, “I didn’t know.”

A single tear had snaked down Theo’s cheek as she read. He climbed to his feet and took the satchel from her. “No one does.”

Walsh whimpered on the floor. His tussle with Theo had left him battered and bruised. Theo shouldered his bag and marched over to Walsh. He glared down at him. “I’m going to escort Princess Estelle back to her parents, and them I’m going to lead the Royal Guard into this mill and have them take you to the dungeons.”

Theo marched down the stairs, and Estelle scurried over to Walsh’s side. He held onto her wrist with an iron grip and snarled something into her ear. With a terrified expression, she darted after Theo.

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When Theo and Estelle emerged from the flour mill, the people gathered in the square burst into cheers. Those who had hats tossed them high into the air. Theo ripped off his red cape and draped it around Estelle’s shoulders, urging her to go to her parents. She planted a kiss on her rescuer’s cheek — much to the delight of the onlookers — before joining the King and Queen of Keravia.

As Theo had promised Walsh, several guards stormed the mill and captured the princess’s kidnapper. Sir Darragh Walsh was sentenced to a life in prison. Just days after he had moved into his cell, he received a letter from Estelle which had only two words: He’s alive.

Walsh gritted his teeth and tore the letter into shreds. When he had grabbed the princess after his fight with the traveler, he had whispered something in her ear. “Kill Theodore, or else,” he had ordered her.

But despite all of his attempts, Theo Matthews was alive.

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Quite obviously, I didn’t write this in five minutes. I was so swept up with my story that I didn’t notice when the timer went off. Sorry about that. :/

AA, I used all three prompts from Challenge 5; one prompt from Challenge 4; one from Challenge 3; and one from Challenge 2. And I listened to Hello From the Dark Side while writing this. 🙂

Loren

LOL, that bucket list thing isn’t going up today, either. 😛

FFWC: Challenge 4

Mason Porter and his friend Kenny Webb were hanging out by themselves, playing video games. They hadn’t eaten for hours.

“Dude, this is super important. It’s an emergency.” Kenny Webb took a deep breath, and Mason tensed, wondering just how life-changing this announcement would be.

“I need McDonald’s,” Kenny confided in all seriousness.

Mason groaned. Between clenched teeth, he growled, “Wanting McDonald’s is not an emergency, Kenny!”

His friend sighed and flopped back onto the couch in Mason’s room, picking up an Xbox controller and jamming the buttons. “Fine. But I’m starved. Can we order a pizza or something?” A moment later, Kenny shouted as an on-screen enemy killed him.

While his friend muttered beneath his breath, Mason extracted his phone from his pocket and called Domino’s. “Hey, I’d like to order a large pizza . . . Uh, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, olives, and sausage . . . Deliver it to Mason Porter on Spring Pine Road, 427. Yeah, thanks, bye.” He fell onto the couch next to Kenny and watched him play, drumming his fingers against his leg as he waited impatiently for his pizza to arrive.

* * *

Aidan Cox, pizza boy extraordinaire, was delivering a large pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, olives, and sausages. His unlikely friend, a baby faerie named Marceline Aspenglow, was spouting random “facts” from her perch on his shoulder.

” . . . The mayor has a homeless identical twin, mermaids have floating libraries, your life is actually just a TV show, peaches are really grown from corn kernels, and spiders –“

“That’s lovely,” Aidan interrupted, “but I’m trying to focus. We don’t want a repeat of last time . . .” His last delivery had gone haywire because he’d been distracted by arguing with the faerie about how plants grew. He had pulled up at the wrong house and given a teenage boy in a polka-dot party hat three free pizzas. Aidan had almost been fired over that mess-up.

Marceline nodded in an uncharacteristically agreeable way and fluttered down to Mason Porter’s aromatic pizza box, her tiny black wings beating the air. She sat crosslegged on top of it and giggled mischievously.

If the pizza delivery boy hadn’t been focusing on the road so hard, he might have wondered why the naughty baby faerie was giggling. A moment later, the little red car pulled into the driveway of a large brick house. Aidan scooped up the pizza, Marceline crawled on top of his baseball cap, and the boy marched up to the door. He knocked, and a moment later, a teen with messy black hair opened it.

“Are you Mason Porter?” Aidan asked. When the teen nodded, he explained, “I’m here with your Domino’s pizza: large, with a ton of toppings. It’ll be fifteen dollars . . .” He waited patiently while Mason rummaged through a thin leather wallet.

From somewhere in the house, a voice shouted, “Hey, bro, is the pizza here?”

“Yep,” Mason called over his shoulder, handing Aidan a crumpled ten dollar bill. “And I’m using your money, Kenny!”

“Fifteen dollars,” Aidan repeated forcefully.

“Oh, yeah . . .” The price was higher than Mason had prepared for. He was unsure of how to proceed; did he have any extra cash on him? To his relief, he found five bills in his pocket, gave them to the pizza boy,  and took the food, breathing in deeply. “Thanks, man.”

Aidan nodded curtly, then headed back to his car. Marceline’s squeaky laugh came from under his hat, and suddenly he paused. “Marceline? Why are you hiding? What did you do?” he asked, starting to sweat nervously.

“Heh heh heh . . .,” the faerie cackled. “I ate all the sausage on the pizza when you weren’t looking!” She let out a tremendous burp.

“It takes a very broken, twisted soul to do what you just did,” Aidan snarled, rushing back to the house’s front door.

“You’re too kind, thanks for noticing!” she sang.

He banged on the door until it opened. “Hey, I’m so sorry, I gave you the wrong pizza . . .,” he stammered, thinking quickly. “Can you give it back? I’ll go get the right one . . .”

Reluctantly, Mason handed him the unopened pizza box, and Aidan sprinted back to the car. There was one other pizza in the whole car that had sausage on it. He’d just take some, sprinkle it on Mason’s pizza, and give it back. Once the deed was done, he hurried back up to the house and gave Mason the fixed pizza. “Sorry, the sausage is a little sparse. We were running low,” he lied, with what he hoped was a sincere smile.

With the transaction over, he slipped into his car and rolled out of the driveway. “You’re despicable,” he muttered to Marceline.

“You just lied to a customer,” she accused, sticking her tongue out. “Really, we’ve been friends for so long, I can’t remember which one of us is the bad influence.”

Aidan was sure that Marceline Aspenglow was the bad influence, but he remained quiet. In his head, he was silently congratulating himself for saving his job. And on this day, the pizza delivery boy became the pizza delivery man, he thought to himself. He’d have to celebrate with a slice of pizza when he returned to the Domino’s store.

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AA, I used all three prompts from Challenge 4; all three prompts from Challenge 2; and two prompts from Challenge 1. I also included a boy in a party hat and a baby faerie.

Loren

FFWC: Challenge 3

“My daughter is gone,” sobbed the dark haired woman sitting before Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. “My poor June . . . she was kidnapped. Please, you have to help me!” The distressed mother gripped the edge of the desk so hard her knuckles turned white.

Juniper Abbott had disappeared the night before while at a friend’s sleepover. The only clue was an anonymous Facebook post directed at her friend that read Please do not post any pictures from last night.

Sherlock steepled his fingers beneath his chin. “Did you have any reason to suspect that your daughter would be kidnapped?”

Mrs. Abbott’s face flushed red in anger. “Did I –? Why, no, sir! I didn’t know it was the last time I would see her. If I had, I would have held her tight and never let go. Why on Earth would I let my sweet June leave the house if I knew she was going to be kidnapped?”

“Ma’am, can you give us the address of the house that your daughter was at last night?” John Watson interjected. “So we can check out the crime scene.”

Thinking with his eyes shut, Sherlock murmured, “Yes, that would be very helpful.”

Giving a watery smile, Mrs. Abbott dug around in her big leather purse and extracted a pen and a notepad. She scribbled down an address. “The girl who hosted the sleepover is named Autumn Ellis. June liked that about her, the thing their names did. Autumn and June, both important parts of the year . . .” She wiped a tear away, smearing mascara down her cheek.

“Excellent,” Sherlock said, examining the address. “John, escort Mrs. Abbott out of the flat. I need to think.”

John sighed, grabbed his cane, and rose to his feet. “Come with me, Mrs. Abbott . . . Sherlock is brilliant at solving murders and kidnappings, don’t worry . . .”

When he mentioned “murder,” the distraught mother burst into tears again.

“I didn’t mean . . . Calm down, Ma’am . . . Oh, blast . . .,” he fumbled, leading her down the stairs and out of 221B Baker Street.

With Mrs. Abbott safely inside a taxi, John trudged back up the stairs to Sherlock’s flat. He found him skipping around gleefully, winding his dark blue scarf around his neck. “A kidnapping! This is brilliant!” Sherlock exclaimed. Turning up the collar on his black trench coat, Sherlock met his friend’s eyes and said, “John, let’s go crack this case.”

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I tried.

Sorry, I know it’s short. I had five minutes, and my brother was arguing with my mom for some of it. Not very easy to concentrate on a story when he’s blabbing right next to you.

Anyway, yeah. That was my FFWC entry. ^.^ AA, I used all the prompts from Challenge 3.

Loren

I ordered some things online a few days ago, and they arrived today! Expect pictures of my new stuff in a few days. 🙂

 

Entry for FFWC Challenge 2

Hi! I’m here with my entry for Challenge Two of AnonymousA’s FFWC.

I’m on Team Fedora!

AA, I used three prompts: two from this challenge, and one from the previous one. Enjoy!

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The phone rang at 11:53 P.M. Eighteen-year-old Cassidy sat bolt upright in her bed. There was only one person who would call her this late at night. She plucked the iPhone from her bedside table and answered the call. “Mel! It’s almost twelve. What do you want?”

“It’s an emergency,” came the voice on the other end. It was Cassidy’s best friend, Mel. “It’s really important! I need you help.”

Cassidy was beginning to get worried. “An emergency?” she asked urgently. “Mel’s, what’s wrong?”

“I need McDonald’s,” her friend explained sheepishly.

Cassidy sighed and messaged her temples. “Wanting McDonald’s is not an emergency,” she hissed.

“Oh, uh, OK. Well, I want some anyway. Also, did I mention that I’m parked outside your house? I want you to come with me.”

Cassidy gritted her teeth, but tumbled out of bed nonetheless. As she struggled out of her pajamas and into jeans and a T-shirt, she said into the phone, “So you snuck out of your house at midnight because you wanted fast food. Why am I not surprised?” She tugged on shoes and a hoodie, ran her hand through her stick-straight caramel hair, and slipped out of her apartment.

“Hey!” said Mel, pretending to be offended. “I did not ‘sneak out.’ Rose knew very well that I was leaving the house.” Rose was Mel’s younger sister. They lived together two streets over.

Cassidy was out of her apartment now, breathing in the cool night air. She hurried down the staircase, being careful not to make the steps creak; she didn’t want to wake any of the people living in the neighboring apartments. A moment later, she was sliding into the passenger seat of her best friend’s beat up silver car. She pocketed her phone as Mel started the car and puttered along the road.

They reached the restaurant in a matter of minutes. It was still open, with lights shining through the glass windows and the Golden Arches inviting them in. Mel parked and the two friends headed for the doors. But as they neared the sidewalk running around the building, they saw four suspicious-looking people dressed in black clothes and baseball hats pulled low over their foreheads. Cassidy knew she didn’t want to walk near them at midnight. She grabbed Mel’s arm and, putting a finger to her lips, dragged her friend over to the bushes edging the parking lot. They were close enough to hear the strangers’ conversation.

“Do you have the goods?” asked the largest of the group.

A slender woman reached into her leather bag and presented a collection of expensive-looking necklaces. The gem pendants glinted beneath the streetlights. “Got them,” she said, her voice silky. She had a foreign accent that Cassidy couldn’t quite place.

The man who spoke next was standing rigid beside the large man. “Parfait,” he exclaimed with a French accent. “And we have the payment.” From the inside of his suit jacket, he produced a fat wad of dollar bills. He handed them to the woman, while his hulking partner took the jewelry.

Cassidy waited for the shady group to disperse before talking. “OK, Mel, come on –” But her best friend was gone. She must have darted away while Cassidy was watching the exchange happen. “Mel?” she called, louder, as the panicky feeling she’d felt when Mel first called returned.

Before she could get too worried and do something stupid, the bushes rustled beside her and Mel reappeared. A McDonald’s bag was clutched in her hand. She cowered behind Cassidy and took fast, shallow breaths.

“Why are you hiding behind me?” Cassidy whispered anxiously. “What did you do?”

Mel rung the McDonald’s bag in her hands, ripping the paper. “I bumped into a man when I was crossing the parking lot. He dropped some necklaces and got really angry. This huge guy behind him started threatening me, so I ran. But I think they’re following me . . .”

A meaty hand reached over the bushes and grabbed Mel’s arm. She was jerked over the shrub with a yelp.

Adrenaline coursing through her veins, Cassidy sprang to her feet and jumped over the bush. The Frenchman and his large crony were starting to beat up her friend. “Mel, hang on!” she shouted, aiming a solid kick at the skinny Frenchman’s shin. With a shriek, he clutched at his leg and hopped up and down, spilling the necklaces. She turned on the burly man restraining her friend. Before she could attack, his hand snapped out and wrapped around her neck. A strangled cry escaped her throat before she and Mel were slung over his shoulders and carried off to a black van in the shadows of the parking lot.

Mel had decided to sneak off to McDonald’s in the middle of the night. Cassidy had thought it was a good idea to attack a muscular man two times her size. They were idiots. They had been friends for so long that Cassidy wasn’t sure who was the bad influence. But the one thing she was sure about was that they were in deep, deep trouble.

Loren